We've recently been listening to Alexei Panshin's Anthony Villiers books, read by Stefan Rudnicki on Audible, and I've been reminded of how much I loved and love them, and how desolated I was and am that the promised fourth book, The Universal Pantograph, never materialised. So I went looking, and found the Panshins' website, the Abyss Of Wonder, where I found, among other things, a number of articles about why AP no longer writes or even reads science fiction, which made me even sadder.
(What follows is based on my reading of the articles; do read them yourself and see if you take from them what I did.) The articles talk a lot about the power of science fiction to expand the mind, change the perceptions and open up new possibilities, which AP sees as its main purpose and function. It's clear that since the eighties he's formed the opinion that it failed in this purpose, and he adduces a number of possible reasons for this, mostly related to corporate greed and the manifold deficiencies of ordinary people, or else flaws built into the form itself. I have to say that I've seen this kind of rhetoric before in a number of contexts--indeed, I've felt that disillusionment myself. I was and am devoted to a certain multiplayer online game that I really wanted to be a huge success and change the face of gaming forever, and when it wasn't and didn't, I saw people blaming the game makers for doing it wrong, the public for being blind fools, the corporate gaming system for being geared to brainless violent games rather than graphically beautiful puzzle-worlds, and the game itself for being fundamentally flawed. Many people abandoned it in favour of more popular games. I never have, but I must admit I seldom log on these days, any more than I seek out new sf books.
But they were missing the point, and I was missing the point, and I think (with the greatest and sincerest respect to a highly qualified critic) Alexei Panshin is missing the point.
Because what matters in the interaction between a person and a game, or a book, or a tv show, or whatever, is not whether the thing succeeds or not, or wins awards, or makes money; it's not whether it changes minds, or opens up perceptions or expands possibilities. It's not whether it accurately predicts the future or accurately portrays the past. It's not whether it's well written, or stylish, or great literature. All these things can matter if you want them to, but they're not the thing that always matters.
There's one thing that always matters.
Do you love it?
The love comes first, leaves last if ever, is all-important. Everything else is rationalisation. Certainly it's possible just to like something; I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the feeling that makes a fan, that inspires people to do likewise, and I say that feeling is love, and unlike liking, it comes before the reasons.
Alexei Panshin loved sf, and because he was looking for certain things, I think maybe he sought those things in what he loved, and when they proved to be transitory, or not even there, he broke up with sf. But I think that was putting a weight on sf that it was never meant to bear. A mental revolution, an expansion of perception, is certainly needed, more now than ever, and the way to it starts way back when Panshin and others were writing great sf, back in the sixties and seventies...but sf was never the gateway to that revolution, no matter how much we might have wanted it to be; it was just the sign and symbol of the readiness. Sf, in essence, is stories we tell each other for entertainment, and if you think being just that makes it trivial or meaningless, then you too are missing the point. It may never change the world, or it may already have done so--advances in technology have been inspired by Star Trek, once regarded as contemptible dross by sf purists. It may never produce great literature, it may produce a mountain of slush. It may coincide in some reader's mind with the moment when his or her perceptions are ready for change, or it may not...and the particular story that triggers that change may have been written yesterday or fifty years ago. None of that matters.
One thing matters: do you love it?
If you love it, that's all that matters. Read it, write it, draw it, paint it, sing it. Create what you love. What I write will never be cutting-edge, because what I love in sf isn't cutting-edge, and wasn't even cutting-edge when I first encountered it; but I'd fail dismally if I tried to write anything else. Enjoy it. Spend time with it. Get to know it. But if you don't want to break your own heart, don't put expectations on it that it can't bear. Don't expect sf--or whatever it is that you love--to change the world just because you love it; don't let yourself stop loving it because it didn't change the world. Let the world look after itself; love what you love with your whole heart, recognising its flaws, but not inventing virtues it doesn't have.
Love what you love with your whole heart. And if you can do that...even if what you love will never change the world...you just might.